My favourite audio-book narrators

The Amulet of Samarkand audio-book on my iPod using the Audible app.I had always enjoyed audio-books but until recent years had not really listened to that many, always preferring print over audio. But when life left me with less and less reading time, then took me off the train and put me behind the wheel of a car, I found that I had on average two hours every single day that the car radio and music albums couldn’t satisfactorily fill. And so I turned to audio-books and it has now become a source of entertainment that I simply cannot now live without. The earliest audio-book I can remember listening to was Watership Down by Roy Dotrice (who currently reads George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books) and I found it a wonderful – but abridged – reading (on cassette) of Richard Adams’ classic tale and I have since managed to get hold of it in mp3 format and it will always remain very special to me. I then purchased the BBC radio adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which are both very good, but I had still not yet listened to a full, unabridged reading of a novel. But this was soon remedied and a quick glance at my Audible library shows I now have more than 130 titles and the vast majority of them are excellent. The audio-book that initially converted me fully to the charms of the format was Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, read by the wonderful Simon Prebble. It was a book I liked but was finding it a bit of a struggle to read at a healthy pace as it is as a bit of a daunting read to be honest. But thanks to Prebble’s amazing array of voice talent I was suddenly having this book brought to life and read to me for over two hours a day and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t just listen to it on my commute, I listened to it at lunch, for a sly five minutes here and there during the work day, while I was washing up and last thing at night (of course using the 15 minutes timer so I wouldn’t be lost in the morning). And from this time I have since listened to some of the very best audio-books in the fantasy and fiction genres and this is what this page is all about. I’ve learnt a few important things along the way, like how epic/high fantasy can be problematic in audio-format due to the amount of invented names and places (the Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth and Shannara books being three good examples) and that urban fantasy is often a much better bet. Unabridged is always best, the only exception being The Bartimaeus Trilogy, which was abridged but did not appear to lose anything. So here are the narrators that have impressed me the most over the years. They have of course been gifted wonderful source material by some very talented authors but still, what they have done with it is truly memorable.

I would love for visitors to make more narrator recommendations do please use the comment box at the bottom of this page to do so.

Frank Muller

Frank MullerFrank Muller, who sadly died in 2008, was a classically trained actor whose background included many years on the New York stage at the Riverside Shakespeare Company, the Roundabout Theater, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. His numerous awards include the Audio Publishers Association’s 1996 Consumer’s Choice Audie Award for Best Unabridged Fiction, the 1997 Best Unabridged Fiction Audie Award, and nine AudioFile Magazine Earphones Awards. His finest moment came in 1999 when he was awarded the top achievement in audiobook narration, the AudioFile Lifetime Achievement Award.

I first heard Frank Muller read on the second book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three. I was stunned, he had managed to recreate the voice of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, from within my own mind and he had managed to take Stephen King’s magnum opus and make it even better to listen to than it was to read, which is no mean achievement. King and Muller are perfect together (I believe Muller was always King’s narrator of choice) and their collaborations together are must-listens for all fantasy audio-book lovers.

Recommended audio-books read by Frank Muller:

  • Dark Tower II: Drawing of the Three (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (Stephen King)
  • The Green Mile (Stephen King)
  • The Talisman (Stephen King and Peter Straub)

John Chancer

John ChancerJohn Chancer is an award-winning narrator of many audio books who has a long association with the theatre on both sides of the Atlantic. He has also been heard on many radio dramas, documentaries and cartoons in Britain and US.

I don’t know if John Chancer is British or American – and this is as big a complement as I can give. I first came across Chancer when listening to the excellent Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, a classic of the dystopian genre that he reads magnificently. And so I had absolutely no hesitation in then downloading the Haruki Murakami book Norwegian Wood when I saw he was the man doing the reading. Chancer is very fine narrator indeed.

Recommended audio-books read by John Chancer:

  • Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
  • Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) – non fantasy but I would still like to recommend

George Guidall

George GuidallGeorge Guidall has recorded over 900 (yes, nine hundred – I’m not sure I’ve read that many books) unabridged novels, bringing a consistent artistry to his readings and delighting listeners for over 20 years. His recordings have garnered uniformly excellent reviews from Audiofile, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and a variety of national newspapers and magazines. Guidall received an Audie Award for best unabridged narration of a novel for his recording of John Irving’s A Widow For One Year, an honor he captured again for his rendition of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True. He holds the record for the most “Earphone” awards (over 70) given by the magazine to any narrator for excellence in narration.

As with Frank Muller, I first encountered George Guidall thanks to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. He reads the first book, The Gunslinger and then returned to complete the series by reading books six and seven. But it was on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that I found him at his very best, bringing the award-winning story to life with brilliant portrayals of the large cast. I would not hesitate to listen to any book read by Guidall.

Neil Gaiman's American Gods within the Audible iPad app.

Recommended audio-books read by George Guidall:

  • Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
  • American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

Sean Barrett

Sean Barrett As a child Sean Barrett appeared on BBC children’s television and in films such as Bang! You’re Dead, War and Peace, The Genie and Four Sided Triangle. Then, in the early 1980s, Barrett went on to voice acting and subsequently performed many voices including Tik-Tok in Return to Oz, a Goblin in Labyrinth and UrSu the Dying Master and UrZah the Ritual-Guardian in The Dark Crystal.

Rumour also has it that Barrett appears on the cover of a single by The Smiths… I think that Sean Barrett is probably my favourite voice actor/narrator because he creates such a wonderful atmosphere, has such a powerful, yet soothing voice and brings across the humour of any book extremely well. By way of a compliment I will happily admit that I would probably not have finished Paul Hoffman’s Left Hand of God trilogy but for the excellence of his readings. Indeed, I was so impressed by Barrett that I went looking for other works read by him and I was led to Kafka on the Shore, which is now by far my favourite Murakami novel and one that Barrett reads brilliantly. I was also introduced to Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole crime thrillers through Barrett, which he reads with such relish. If you see Sean Barrett’s name alongside a book you like, do not think twice and begin listening immediately.

Recommended audio-books read by Sean Barrett:

  • The Snowman (Jo Nesbo)
  • The Left Hand of God (Paul Hoffman)
  • The Last Four Things (Paul Hoffman)
  • The Beating of His Wings (Paul Hoffman)
  • Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)

Roy Dotrice

Roy DotriceRoy Dotrice is an award-winning actor who has earned two places within the Guinness Book of Records. The first being for the greatest number of solo theatre performances (1,782), and the second for having recorded the highest number of character voices by a single actor in the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones, in which he voices a total of 224 characters).

I first encountered Roy Dotrice in the 1980s when my sister received the audiobook edition of Watership Down as a present. Before long ownership had passed to me by virtue of borrowing it and never giving it back. I have listened to Dotrice tell the stirring tale of Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver and company at least once a year for the past three decades. He managed to bring as much life and individuality to the characters that it was like listening to a full cast dramatisation. When I learned that Dotrice would be reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series I was delighted, and the verve and skill with which he delivers these large books is mightily impressive considering he has recently passed his ninetieth birthday. One of my favourite narrators.

Recommended audio-books by Roy Dotrice:

  • Watership Down (Richard Adams)
  • A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Clash of Kings (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Storm of Swords (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Feast of Crows (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Dance With Dragons (George R. R. Martin)

Karen Archer

Karen Archer.To all of her performances, Karen Archer brings a seamless fluidity and humanity combined with precision and attention to detail. These qualities have made her a familiar voice in the many documentaries she has recorded for National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Karen has made numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio, twice being a member of BBC Radio Drama Company. Her work in the theatre includes classics such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and contemporary roles such as Annie Wilkes in an adaptation of Steven King’s novel Misery. Her extensive television work has included Assistant Chief Constable Anne Stewart in the police drama series The Chief and Queen Elizabeth I in David Starkey’s acclaimed historical series, Elizabeth. Karen has read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I for Naxos Audio Books. For Craftsman Audio Books she has recorded the complete Snow-Walker trilogy by Catherine Fisher and A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.

The Earthsea books are amongst my very favourites. They are beautifully written, imbued with such a sense of calm and thoughtfulness that reading them can instil a feeling not unlike meditation. Karen Archer reads them perfectly, matching precisely Le Guin’s masterful prose. A must listen for all fantasy fans.

Recommended audio-books read by Karen Archer:

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)

Simon Vance

simon-vance-portraitSimon Vance caught the acting bug while attending the Brighton School of Music and Drama on Saturday mornings. He was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and started recording funny voices and silly noises. In the 1970’s he began a broadcasting career at BBC Radio Brighton. In the 1980’s he became a newsreader and presenter for BBC Radio 4 where he discovered a knack for narrating audiobooks when working for the Talking Book Service of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. In the 1990’s he began doing audiobooks commercially for the first time and has since has received 7 Audie nominations and received 27 Earphone awards.

My first encounter with Simon Vance came when I began listening to  his reading of Tigana, one of my favourite books of all time, which he delivers perfectly, doing the book complete justice. And it is for the reading of Tigana that Simon Vance appears on this page and I look forward to listening to him read the story to me once again in the not to distant future.

Recommended audio-books read by Simon Vance:

  • Tigana (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • River of Stars (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • Weaveworld (Clive Barker)
  • Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel) – non fantasy
  • Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)

Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana within the Audible iPad app.

Tom Stechschulte

Tom Stechshulte.Tom Stechschulte is a prolific audiobook reader, having read, amongst others: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and The Road, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island.

I now associate Tom Stechschulte with the very best dystopian fiction, namely The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Swan Song by Robert McCammon. His reading voice is the very epitome of sonorous, the voice he uses for the Man from The Road and Joshua from Swan Song being absolutely perfect. I could – and will – listen to him narrate The Road every year, it is a perfect book read beautifully.

Recommended audio-books read by Tom Stechschulte:

  • Swan Song (Robert McCammon)
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

Steven Pacey

Steven Pacey.Steven Pacey is a versatile actor and narrator who balances audiobook work with a busy theatre career. He is often recognized for his skill with characters and the scope of his talents in audiobooks for both adults and children. He is brilliant at bringing out the unusual British blend of suspense and humour in audiobooks for older children. His narration of Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris won an Earphones Award.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy is brilliant fantasy but also very, very funny, especially when read by Steven Pacey. His portrayal of the irascible djinni is a joy to listen to and he capture the sardonic wit to perfection. And a sign of his versatility is how comfortably he then turns to something far darker in John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One in, a modern take on the vampire novel set in a bleak Scandinavian setting. His reading of Gentlemen & Players is on my must-listen-to-next list.

Recommended audio-books read by Steven Pacey:

  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud)
  • Let the Right One in (John Lindqvist)

Simon Prebble

Simon Prebble.British born performer Simon Prebble is a stage, film and television actor who has played everything from Soaps to Shakespeare. As a narrator of some 350 audio book titles he has received critical acclaim from both fans and peers. He is one of Audiofile’s ‘Golden Voices’ and Voices of the Century’, and has received over 24 ‘Earphone’ awards, 5 ‘Listen Up’ awards and has been nominated 11 times for the ‘Audies’, the industry’s own ‘Oscars’. In 2005 he was named ‘Narrator of the Year’ by Publisher’s Weekly.

Simon Prebble may well be the individual I have most to thank in regards to my conversion to the love of audiobooks. I was reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and while finding it a very good book I was having difficulty making much progress, often reading little more than 10 pages a night. It was a dense read (in a good way). So I downloaded the audiobook and from that moment on I listened to it at a rate of about 4 hours a day (about 120 pages) and so was finished in less than a week. And what a story it was, and what a feat of narration, to bring a large cast to life using brilliantly sounding, and authentic, voices. I was sorry when the reading finished and have since listened to it twice again. Prebble is also excellent at narrating the Sherlock Holmes stories. His Narrator of the Year award was well deserved.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • The Pickwick Papers (Charles Dickens)

Samuel West

Samuel WestSam West is a British narrator, actor and director. He has recorded over fifty audiobooks, among which are the Shakespeare plays All’s Well That Ends Well, Coriolanus, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II and Macbeth, the Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson, the Arthur trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland, five books by Sebastian Faulks and two by George Orwell.

It was on John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids that I first heard Samuel West narrate and I was very impressed by how he managed to perfectly encapsulate the era in which the book was set. He told that story with such skill and aplomb that when I saw that he has also narrated George Orwell’s 1984, a book I had long wanted to read, I didn’t hesitate to download it straight away. And the book itself, and the reading, are just as magnificent as I hoped they would be. West read dystopia very, very well but judging from the list of the works he has also done he appears to be as comfortable and as skilled across all genres. If there was a book that appealed to me and it was available as an audiobook read by West I would not hesitate for one second to download it immediately.

  • 1984 (George Orwell)
  • The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)

Stephen Fry

Stephen FryStephen Fry is a comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist who needs little introduction, especially here in his native UK where he has achieved national treasure status. To me he is best known for his comedy work with Hugh Laurie, his long-running television series QI and for his roles in the ever-popular Blackadder comedy series.

His is also a narrator of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and boy does he do it justice. Not all actors have a varied array of voices and accents. In fact, in my experience, famous actors do not often make the best narrators due to their lack of vocal diversity but Stephen Fry does not fall into this category. His reading of the seven phenomenally successful novels is perfect, from his Harry, Ron and Hermoine through to his – in my opinion – fond homages to the great British actors from the film adaptations, namely Robbie Coltraine, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, this is a collection of audiobooks to, well, treasure.

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J. K. Rowling)

And so that brings to an end a list of the best narrators I have so far encountered. The criteria for inclusion is a minimum of two excellent readings and this has naturally led to the exclusion of several other fantastic narrators. So I have listed some other great fantasy audio-books and their readers below:

  • Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Trilogy, read by Jonathan Barlow
  • The BBC adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • Stephen King’s The Stand, read by Grover Gardner and Under the Dome, read by Raul Esparza
  • Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, read by Jonathan Davis
  • Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, read by Ron Perlman
  • Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, read by Allan Corduner
  • The Graveyard Book, read by the book’s author Neil Gaiman
  • Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, read by the author and full cast
  • J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, read by Martin Shaw
  • Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, read by Sir Ian McKellan
  • Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, read by William Hope and Lauren Lefkow
  • Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, read by Peter Joyce

I am always on the look out for more audio-book recommendations so please let me know what else I should be listening to by leaving a comment below. I hope you have found this list useful.

Audio-book review: Left Hand of God read by Sean Barrett

Rating 8.5/10

An example of storyteller and narrator in perfect harmony.

Image: The Left Hand of God book cover “Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary.”

The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place – a place without joy or hope. Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose – to serve in the name of the One True Faith.

In one of the Sanctuary’s vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old – he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die.

His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt.

But the Redeemers want Cale back at any price… not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not.

Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God is a well-written book and makes for a highly enjoyable listen, particularly when narrated by a reader as good as Sean Barrett. Barrett’s tone, delivery and pacing are perfect and he has worked wonders in making the – not-insignificant number of – cast members all sound unique and authentic.

Hoffman’s book is not a masterpiece, it is good solid fantasy, its strength lies in its appeal that has crossed over into mainstream literature. It is not just fantasy fans that have enjoyed reading it but it has also managed to find favour in circles that would not usually read within the genre. No small achievement.

The telling of this story encompasses the listener in a warm and cosy feeling and the author and narrator immediately gain the listener’s trust. There is a vibrancy and life to the tale that provides great entertainment and that compels you to listen to the very end.

The good news is that there will be a sequel and, fingers crossed, Mr Hoffman and Mr Barrett will once again team up to record it. The audio-book version of The Left Hand of Darkness is an example of storyteller and narrator in perfect harmony. Great fun – one of the best fantasy audio-books.

The Left Hand of God
Paul Hoffman
Unabridged
Narrator: Sean Barrett
Length: 12 hours and 30 min

Audio book review: Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, read by Saskia Butler

Rating 8.0/10

Dragon Keeper is an intriguing look at human nature and interaction.

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Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…

The Liveship Traders was a brilliant trilogy of books, amongst the best that the fantasy genre has ever seen. So when author Robin Hobb decided to return to the Rain Wild River to write a stand-alone adventure the news was greeted with great joy from her legions of fans around the world. Hobb had originally intended the new work to be just one volume but her publishers thought it wiser to split it into two books, Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven.

Dragon Keeper is better suited to a female narrator and in Saskia Butler they chose well. Her youthful tone is well-matched to the two young female protagonists, Alise and Thymara, and her delivery is very entertaining and professional. The story itself is VERY character-driven; those familiar with Robin Hobb’s work will expect this but those new to her work should be aware that Robin Hobb does not write non-stop action-packed rollercoaster rides – the characters, and their deepest thought and feelings are paramount to her tales.

The Dragon Keeper audio-book is perfect for those desperate to know more of the dragons and Elderlings that feature in the Farseer, Liveship and Tawny Man books. It does in particular shine greater light on the Elderlings: who they were, how they came to be and – on this part I’m just guessing, and hoping – what became of them.

Dragon Keeper is an intriguing look at human nature and interaction that forms the introductory part of the whole that is The Rain Wild Chronicle. Dragon Haven promises to be even better…

Dragon Keeper: The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 1
Robin Hobb
Unabridged
Narrator: Saskia Butler
Length: 17 hours and 3 min

Audio-book review: The Runes of the Earth read by Anton Lesser

Synopsis
In 1977, Stephen Donaldson changed the face of epic fantasy with the publication of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Thomas Covenant is struck down with a disease believed eradicated; he is abandoned by his wife and son and becomes a pariah. Alone and despairing, Covenant falls, and is drawn into a mysterious new world, where gentle people work magic and the earth itself brings healing. He is welcomed as the reincarnation of a legendary saviour, but Covenant refuses to believe. At the end of the sixth book, as Covenant battles to save the world, he is killed, in both worlds, as Dr. Linden Avery, his horrified companion, looks on.

It’s 10 years later, and Linden Avery thought she would never see the Land, or Covenant, again. But Lord Foul has stolen her adopted son, and is unmaking the very laws of nature. And though she believes Covenant dead, he keeps sending Linden messages: "Find me", and "Don’t trust me". The Land is in turmoil, and Lord Foul has plans for them all.

Review
This audio-book proved to be tough-going. Reading the original books was also tough-going but they had the redemptive quality of being ultimately highly rewarding. I am afraid The Runes of the Earth is simply tough-going.

If pushed to name the one thing that I found most annoying about this audio-book I would have to go with the overly dramatic moments that plagued it. You could almost visualise an exclamation mark ever paragraph – Foul, you bastard! How could he! The Land is dying! I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth! etc… etc…

Added to this, Linden Avery cuts a rather unsympathetic and annoying lead, and Anele is a nerve-grating addition to the cast.

Anton Lesser struggles manfully, his stock narrative voice excellent but his portrayal of individual characters not quite as strong. I’m afraid that this audio-book and The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are just not for me, which is a shame considering that the original six books are works that I will always remember fondly.

There is, however, an excellent and fascinating interview with Stephen Donaldson after the reading has finished.

We Rate It5-stars

About the author and narrator
Stephen R. Donaldson came to prominence in 1977 with the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, a story that centred around a leper shunned by society and his trials and tribulations as his destiny unfolds. These books established Stephen Donaldson as one of the most important figures in modern fantasy fiction.

British actor Anton Lesser has played many of the principal Shakespearian roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Petruchio, Romeo and Richard III. He is also very active in radio and spoken word audio and is particularly known for the major novels of Charles Dickens, with Great Expectations winning the Talkie Award.

The Tombs of Atuan (unabridged) read by Karen Archer

the-tombs-of-atuan Synopsis
In the legends of Earthsea, it is said that the wizard and king Erreth-Akbe was defeated by the high priest of the Kargad lands, and his amulet of power, bearing the rune of bonding, was broken and was lost.

Now, in the second book of Earthsea, the wizard Sparrowhawk enters the menacing labyrinth of the Tombs of Atuan to regain the amulet, and restore the rune which will bring peace to all of the islands of Earthsea.

Yet the labyrinth has a guardian, a young princess called Arha, whose life is dedicated to the the dark spirits who inhabit the tombs. She is determined that Sparrowhawk will meet the fate the befell Erreth-Akbe long ago.

Review
The Tombs of Atuan follows on from A Wizard of Earthsea but there is a distinctly different feel to the story. Featuring a predominantly female cast and set mainly in the location of the Tombs it is a departure from its predecessor. Those expecting simply more of Sparrowhawk and his voyages will be in for a surprise. Ursula Le Guin again shows the power of names introduced in A Wizard of Earthsea, and the themes of light and shadow, good and evil are again evident. It is a courageous and compelling sequel.

Karen Archer’s narration is first-rate and her pacing and delivery are once again perfect.

About the reader
To all of her performances, Karen Archer brings a seamless fluidity and humanity combined with precision  and attention to detail. These qualities have made her a familiar voice in the many documentaries she has recorded for National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Karen has made numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio, twice being a member of BBC Radio Drama Company. Her work in the theatre includes classics such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and contemporary roles such as Annie Wilkes in an adaptation of Steven King’s novel Misery. Her extensive  television work has included Assistant Chief Constable Anne Stewart in the police drama series The Chief and Queen Elizabeth I in David Starkey’s acclaimed historical series, Elizabeth.

Karen has read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I for Naxos Audio Books. For Craftsman, she has also recorded the complete Snow-Walker trilogy by renowned fantasy author Catherine Fisher and the critically-acclaimed recording of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Karen says of its sequel, The Tombs of Atuan:

“Ursula Le Guin’s evocation of atmosphere and place is quite breathtaking. But it is her overriding belief in the enduring goodness of one human spirit in the face of evil that is at the core of this book, connecting Earthsea to the here-and-now.’’

About the author
Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber in 1929 in Berkeley, California. Her mother was a writer and her father an anthropologist. Her childhood was spent in a household filled with talk, argument and discussion surrounded by books, music and story-telling. As the only daughter in her family, the absence of her 3 elder brothers during World War Two made the summers at home lonely ones. Yet she considers those long days as a teenager, wandering the hills, of great importance: ‘I think I started making my soul then’ Ursula says. With a love of languages, she studied French and Italian literature at Radcliffe College. In 1953, in Paris, she married the historian Charles A. Le Guin. A very private person, Ursula Le Guin has three children, three grandchildren and lives in Portland, Oregon.

She has published six books of poetry, twenty novels, over a hundred short stories, four collections of essays, eleven books for children, and four volumes of translation and says of the work of authorship: “Writing is my craft. I honour it deeply. To have a craft, to be able to work at it, is to be honoured by it.”

The books in the Earthsea cycle were first published to great acclaim in 1968 with A Wizard of Earthsea. Millions of copies have subsequently been sold and the books have been translated into 16 languages. Ursula says:

“Exploring the Archipelago, discovering the rules of magic and what happens when you break them, the things I learned in Earthsea and the people I met there – that’s been a great part of my life for nearly forty years. And a great part of the joy of it is knowing that I share it with my readers.”

Audio-book review: Winnie the Pooh read by Alan Bennett

Winnie-the-Pooh read by Alan Bennett CD image Alan Bennett reads AA Milne’s much loved stories about a small bear and his friends

What is the connection between a Bear of Very Little Brain and a honey pot? Usually it’s the very sticky paw of Winnie-the-Pooh, as he takes a break between adventures for ‘a little something’.

In these five stories, taken from the book Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh goes visiting and gets into a tight place, Eeyore loses a tail, Piglet meets a Heffalump, Eeyore has a birthday and gets two presents, and an expotition is mounted to the North Pole!

As usual they are accompanied by Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl – to say nothing of Pooh’s very clever young human friend, Christopher Robin.

Alan Bennett remains faithful to AA Milne’s creations and gives the lovable characters the voices the author meant them to have. The five stories are told in a charming and unhurried way that will enchant children and adults alike.

We Rate It 8 stars

The recording was previously released on cassette in 1984, 1993 and 1998. Running Time: 1 hour 5 minutes.

Alan Bennett has been a household name in British theatre ever since he starred and co-authored the satirical review Beyond the Fringe with Dudley Moore, Peter Cooke and Jonathan Miller in 1960 at the Edinburgh Festival.

AA Milne biography

The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick, read by Derek Jacobi

Rating 9.0/10

A timeless tale told by an ageless actor.

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The Book of Dead Days audio-book coverThe days between 27 December and New Year’s Eve are dead days – days when spirits roam and magic shifts restlessly just beneath the surface of our everyday lives. There is a man, Valerian, whose time is running out, who must pay the price for the pact he made with evil so many years ago. His servant is Boy, a child with no name and no past; a child he treats with contempt, but who serves his master well and finds solace in the company of his only friend, Willow. Unknown to any of them, it is Boy who holds the key to their destiny.

Set in dark threatening cities and the frozen countryside in a distant time and place of the author’s making, ‘The Book of Dead Days’ conjures a spell-binding story of sorcery and desperate magic as Valerian, Boy and Willow battle to stop time and cling to life. Beautifully evoked, dramatic and emotionally powerful.

Derek Jacobi is wonderful narrator and already well-known in fantasy circles for his wonderful readings of JRR Tolkien‘s Farmer Giles of Ham, CS Lewis‘s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Kenneth Grahame‘s The Wind in the Willows to name but three.

In Marcus Sedgwick’s marvelously dark and atmospheric tale he has a story worthy of his talents. The major strength of this recording is in the way that Jacobi manages to bring this enduring tale to life – the sinister old European city setting is terrifically realistic and the magnificent characters make this an enchanting audio experience. You can almost smell the open sewers of the city.

From a book that is skilfully written comes an audio-book that is expertly read. The Book of Dead Days audio-book is a real must for those looking for a timeless tale told by an ageless actor.

Marcus Sedgwick was born in Kent in 1968 and is an acclaimed children’s author and illustrator.

Sedgwick is renowned for the dark-themes that he incorporates into his young-adult novels. His first book Floodland was published in 2000, winning the Branford Boase Book Award for best debut children’s novel.

“I remember consciously thinking before I wrote it that the city was going to be a character, a gift for the gothic. It’s really beautiful, but rotting to pieces at the same time. The 18th century was when it was considered at its most beautiful but also at its most debauched.” Marcus Sedgwick: Venice and The Kiss of Death.

Sir Derek George Jacobi CBE is an English actor and film director, knighted in 1994 for his services to theatre. Like Laurence Olivier, he bears the distinction of holding two knighthoods, Danish and British. He is regarded to have one of the most outstanding speaking voices ever, with studied tonality and an exceptional elocution in drama.

Watership Down (abridged) read by Roy Dotrice

Rating 9.2/10

Richard Adams’s wonderful book is told by an audio-book reader of sublime skill.

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Image: Watership Down audio-book cover Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver and a band of selected rabbits leave their threatened warren and set out on an epic and dangerous journey in this classic animal story.

Playing time: 2 hours 57 minutes

Richard Adams’s wonderful book is told by an audio-book reader of sublime skill. Roy Dotrice portrays each and every rabbit with a voice that suits perfectly and enhances, rather than diminishes, the enjoyment already attained from the written word.

Roy Dotrice is a distinguished English actor who won many awards for his one-man show Brief Lives and enjoyed recent success as Charles Dickens in the TV series Dickens of London.

Richard Adams worked as a civil servant before his remarkable ability to convey the spirit of the animal world in bestsellers such as Watership Down, Shardik and the The Plague Dogs made him a household name.

A Wizard Of Earthsea (unabridged) read by Karen Archer

Rating 9.3/10

The pacing and delivery of Karen Archer is exemplary.

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A Wizard of Earthsea audio-book He was born on the island of Gont, a land famous for pirates, goatherds and… wizards. The boy Ged begins an epic journey that takes him to Roke, the Isle of the Wise, where the skills of wizardry are learnt. There, in pride and anger, he summons a dark and malevolent spirit that sorcery cannot conquer. Pursued by this menace, Ged must flee across the oceans and islands of Earthsea, searching for a means to defeat it.

One of the great landmarks of fantasy, Ursula Le Guin’s novel set the benchmark for all future writers.

Review
This is audio-book perfection; the pacing and delivery of Karen Archer is exemplary. The voices that she conjures for all all the individual characters are impressively unique and her attention to detail shines throughout this production. Craftsman and Archer are of course fortunate to have a book of the quality of Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea to work with but they do it full justice. The tracks on the recording are split into segments of 2-3 minutes and this allows the listener to easily find where they left off and the music, by the Renaissance Players accompanies the story well but without being intrusive.

I cannot fault this recording in any way; all punctuation is correctly observed and there is nothing not up to scratch. This audio-book is ideal for those wanting to escape to a land of sea, wizards and dragons; a thought-provoking tale of dangerous pride and acceptance – this audio-book sits comfortably next to its printed twin on the classics shelf.

This audio-book is available from the main sources: Amazon and Play.com but also from specialists like London’s Talking Bookshop in Baker Street.

Karen Archer To all of her performances, Karen Archer brings a seamless fluidity and humanity combined with precision and attention to detail. These qualities have made her a familiar voice in the many documentaries she has recorded for National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Karen has made numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio, twice being a member of BBC Radio Drama Company. Her work in the theatre includes classics such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and contemporary roles such as Annie Wilkes in an adaptation of Steven King’s novel Misery. Her extensive television work has included Assistant Chief Constable Anne Stewart in the police drama series The Chief and Queen Elizabeth I in David Starkey’s acclaimed historical series, Elizabeth. Karen has read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I for Naxos Audio Books. For Craftsman, she has also recorded the complete Snow-Walker trilogy by renowned fantasy author Catherine Fisher. Karen says of A Wizard of Earthsea: “The tremendous reputation of this book preceded it. It was a wonderful challenge for an actor and I was delighted to be part of this new British unabridged recording.”

Ursula Le Guin Ursula Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber in 1929 in Berkeley, California. Her mother was a writer and her father an anthropologist. Her childhood was spent in a household filled with talk, argument and discussion surrounded by books, music and story-telling. As the only daughter in her family, the absence of her 3 elder brothers during World War Two made the summers at home lonely ones. Yet she considers those long days as a teenager, wandering the hills, of great importance: ‘I think I started making my soul then’ Ursula says. With a love of languages, she studied French and Italian literature at Radcliffe College. In 1953, in Paris, she married the historian Charles A. Le Guin. A very private person, Ursula Le Guin has three children, three grandchildren and lives in Portland, Oregon. She has published six books of poetry, twenty novels, over a hundred short stories, four collections of essays, eleven books for children, and four volumes of translation and says of the work of authorship: “Writing is my craft. I honour it deeply. To have a craft, to be able to work at it, is to be honoured by it.”

A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book of the Earthsea cycle, was first published to great acclaim in 1968. Millions of copies have subsequently been sold and the Earthsea books have been translated into 16 languages. Ursula says: “Exploring the Archipelago, discovering the rules of magic and what happens when you break them, the things I learned in Earthsea and the people I met there – that’s been a great part of my life for nearly forty years. And a great part of the joy of it is knowing that I share it with my readers.”
© Marian Wood Kolisch